The World Needs Copper. Does It Need This Controversial Mine? – by Julia Rosen (National Geographic – November 15, 2017)

The fight over the proposed Pebble mine in southern Alaska is a harbinger: Global copper demand is expected to grow dramatically.

On a Thursday in October, dozens of Alaskans piled into a cavernous airplane hangar in the remote village of Iliamna to discuss — yet again — the fate of the proposed Pebble Mine. Seventeen miles to the northwest, underneath snaking rivers and spongy bogs, lies one of the largest undeveloped deposits of copper and gold in North America.

Mining companies have been exploring it for decades. But many fear that an open pit mine here, at the headwaters of two of the last great salmon rivers on Earth, will harm fish — and the people who depend on them.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to impose restrictions that would have blocked plans for a large mine, citing the impacts on fish-bearing streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. But the mine’s backers sued, putting the restrictions on hold.

Now, Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Canadian company that owns Pebble Partnerships, may get another shot under the Trump administration. Following a meeting between Pebble executives and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in May, the agency settled the lawsuit and announced plans to abandon the Obama-era restrictions.

EPA officials were in Iliamna to hear what the public thought of the reversal. According to local news reports, a few attendees spoke up in favor of the mine, but many residents of the region — including more than 80 percent of its Native Alaskan population — are strongly against it. “It’s not acceptable in any form,” says Alannah Hurley, executive director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Native Alaskans depend on salmon and other wild foods for both physical and spiritual sustenance, she says. “If the environment is harmed, therefore our people are harmed.”

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